Over the past week, New Zealand Warriors have doubled the number of Australians in their wider NRL squad with Bulldogs forward Lachlan Burr the latest to make the move to Aotearoa. Burr joins Adam Keighran and Jackson Frei, who were given the haere mai to Mt Smart last week and they'll link up with a trio of Warrior Aussies who can show them how the kiwis get it done; Blake Green, Karl Lawton and Blake Ayshford.
Don't expect the number of Aussies in the Warriors playing squad to increase dramatically though, unless there are further signings made over summer. Of this group, Burr is the most likely to get NRL time given that he has been in and around the NRL for a few years now and his ability to primarily play edge forward, while dabbling in the middle will be called upon at some stage.
If we're going down that route, Keighran isn't too far behind in getting NRL minutes. All it will probably take here is for an injury to Shaun Johnson or Blake Green and some good footy from Keighran to demand selection ahead of Chanel Harris-Tavita. Then we have Frei, who has been signed on a development contract, which means there's a chance he gets NRL minutes via an emergency with NRL clearance but he'll start his time at the Warriors as a prospect.
We know Green's a starter, but with Nathaniel Roache returning this will bump Lawton down a peg. Taane Milne's arrival could see him bump Ayshford down a peg as well, let alone all the outside back depth already at the Warriors. Ultimately, that has me low key thinking that Burr is second behind Green as the Aussie who could get the most NRL minutes out of Mt Smart.
Burr could be considered a bit of a battler, considering that at 26-years-old he has 24 NRL games with the Bulldogs and Gold Coast Titans as well as a stint in England during 2017. In returning to his local club the Bulldogs this year though, Burr won their ISP Player of the Year ... reserve grade MVP and was part of a Bulldogs team that won the NSWRL ISP comp and then won the National State Championship on top of their NSW crown.
Whether you think Burr is going to make hefty contributions to the NRL group, or not, depends on whether you think he's capable of making the jump up to NRL footy. Considering that Burr has been unable to do that yet could be viewed as a negative, although the flipside is that the Warriors may be getting Burr at the right state where experience, maturity and talent meet.
Burr primarily plays as an edge forward and will bolster the Warriors depth in this position after the lost Joe Vuna to his Mormon mission and Matiu Love-Henry to Wynum-Manly Seagulls. We will have to wait until we start to get team lists and confirmation of the playing roster, but right now the Warriors do have prospects like King Vuniyayawa and Preston Riki in the roster. Burr appears far more ready for NRL footy though and this follows the Warriors recruitment trend with their Aussies.
What seems it be happening now that Brian Smith is running the footy department and Peter O'Sullivan's sussing out the recruitment is that they are filling the void between NRL-ready and the prospects already at the club. The other trend is better use of the salary cap and juggling the financials as they have let Mason Lino and James Gavet depart - I again reinforce my belief that they got upgraded contracts with Newcastle Knights - replacing them with cheaper players, those who want an opportunity.
The cheapest option is to promote youngsters, when allowing players to take up better contracts elsewhere. The issue there is that those youngsters might not be ready for NRL footy and they need time in reserve grade to find themselves, feel the rigours of week to week footy at that level.
In signing Keighran and Burr, the Warriors have two Australians who know all about reserve grade and are in better positions to step up to NRL footy than the prospects at Mt Smart. They have greater maturity via life and footy experience, while also showing in 2018 that in the right spot, they could contribute at NRL level. Ultimately though, Keighran and Burr are cheap and the Warriors are specifically recruiting Aussies out of reserve grade as opposed to paying more to get NRL players to come to Auckland.
Take this idea into a bigger picture and the cycle is a thing of beauty. The Warriors should produce plenty of talent and they have quickly become a place where players can showcase their talents, they have nourished Lino and Gavet into better contracts at Newcastle. There will always be players who leave the Warriors for more money in Australia, even more so that they have sorted all their shit out and it's great to see guys progress through the levels and end up with more value.
To replace those who depart, we're now seeing cheap Aussies get recruited and the Warriors have proven themselves to be very specific in who they recruit. Keighran was in the ISP Team of the Year and Burr won the Bulldogs MVP award, they play in the positions that the Warriors need depth in and are hungry for a sniff of NRL footy. You gotta love some smart, logical recruitment out of Mt Smart.
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Peace and love 27.